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Group works to fight blood cancers

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By Todd Cohen

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Over 53,000 patients died of leukemia, lymphoma or myeloma in 2006, with leukemia alone causing more deaths than any other cancer among children and young adults under age 20.

Working to raise money and awareness to fight those blood cancers are 66 chapters of The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, a nonprofit in White Plains, N.Y., that has invested over $486 million in research since it was formed in 1949.

The Western North Carolina chapter, based in Charlotte, raises $2.1 million a year through special events and from individual donors, and provides services for patients and families.

This year, the chapter will stage its Light the Night walk in Charlotte, Asheville and Greensboro on Sept. 29, Oct. 6 and Oct. 13, respectively.

To generate corporate support for the evening event, a two-mile, non-competitive walk, the chapter on May 3 will host business leaders at a breakfast at the Charlotte Marriott South Park featuring a talk by John Silvia, chief economist for Wachovia and corporate walk chair.

With offices in Asheville and Greensboro, the Western North Carolina chapter raises $1.3 million a year through the Society’s “Team in Training” program, the largest sports endurance program in the United States, says Donna Canzano, director of special events.

Individuals raise money in exchange for training, travel and participation in events like marathons, half-marathons, triathlons and 100-mile bike rides.

The chapter raises the remainder of its funds through the Light the Night Walk and other events, and donations from individuals.

For Light the Night, teams of families and friends, corporate teams and individual walkers carry white illuminated balloons for cancer patients or survivors, and red illuminated balloons for supporters.

Other events include Pennies for Patients, an effort each spring by students, mainly in elementary and middle schools, to raise money to honor other students battling blood cancer.

The chapter also hosts a nine-week fundraising competition among both men and women that will end with a gala dinner June 15 at the Wachovia Atrium.

And the chapter seeks individual contributions through a direct-mail appeal at the end of the year.

With one American diagnosed with a blood cancer every five minutes, and another dying from a blood cancer every 10 minutes, Canzano says, raising research dollars and providing services are critical jobs.

In addition to providing support services and education for patients and families, and educational seminars for professionals such as social workers, physicians and nurses, the chapter provides $500 in financial assistance for every patient that requests it.

In the fiscal year ended June 30, financial assistance totaled over $94,000 for 239 patients, exceeding the budgeted amount by $20,000.

Financial assistance is expected to grow to over $100,000 in the current fiscal year.

To generate more dollars for research, the chapter aims to raise more money from events and generate a bigger share of its budget through individual contributions, Canzano says.

She says the chapter aims to attract at least 100 corporate executives to its May 3 breakfast, where Silvia will encourage them to support Light the Night through sponsorships and employee participation.

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